First Posted: 10/19/2009
A former longtime publisher of The Mount Airy News was recalled Monday as a man who deeply loved his community and launched many civic projects that continue to benefit citizens today.
George Summerlin, 73, lost a long battle with cancer Saturday at his home in Morehead City, where he had resided in recent years.
Summerlin, who was originally from Goldsboro, came to The Mount Airy News in the mid-1970s, and under his leadership the newspaper experienced some of the most major growth in its 129-year history.
In the early 1980s, the News advanced from a three-day-per-week publication to a daily newspaper with editions on Monday through Friday, while the newspaper offices on Renfro Street also underwent a massive expansion.
Late in that decade, a Sunday edition was added to the schedule.
During this period, The Mount Airy News was an afternoon paper, but became a morning publication in the late 1990s during Summerlins tenure.
Summerlin literally had grown up in the newspaper industry, joining the staff of the Goldsboro News-Argus as a teen-ager. The Goldsboro newspaper and The Mount Airy News once were both owned by Mid-South Management Co. of Spartanburg, S.C. The News was among a group of publications acquired in 2007 by Heartland Publications.
Before retiring as publisher in 2002 after 29 years in that position, Summerlin also had left his mark on the community, particularly through his work with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
He was always supportive of the community, Jim Grimes, a former chief executive officer of the chamber for nearly 30 years, said Monday of Summerlin. He liked the community and he wanted to see it grow.
Grimes recalled that Summerlin headed the chambers governing board at one point. Under his guidance when he was president, he did a lot, Grimes said. He just added a lot to it.
The former executive further recalled that Summerlin had a way of getting things done, an observation echoed by Teresa Lewis, the owner of Workforce Carolina in Mount Airy, who also has been active with the Chamber of Commerce over the years.
George was always a man you could count on to do what he said he would do, Lewis said Monday, remembering that she served with Summerlin on the chamber board. He was so supportive of local business and the local community.
Summerlin was named the chambers Citizen of the Year in 1979.
Among the imprints made on Mount Airy by Summerlin during his long career is the Mount Airy War Memorial at the corner of South Main and Rockford streets. He and fellow local businessman Richard Vaughn led a fund-raising campaign for the monument that continues to serve as a focal point for veterans gatherings and other patriotic activities in the community.
The memorial, constructed of white Mount Airy granite and adorned with a fountain, lists the names of all Surry Countians who have died in every U.S. war.
Summerlin also helped found the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History downtown.
His pro-business fervor led the newspaper publisher to help organize the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the lead industrial-recruitment organization locally, with which he served one year as chairman.
Summerlin also was a major supporter of the local United Fund, along with serving on the Reeves Community Center Board of Directors and being involved in other civic clubs and organizations.
He was active with the newspaper industry on a state scale as well, including serving on the boards of directors of the North Carolina Press Association and the UNC School of Journalism Foundation. Summerlin was a former president of the North Carolina Association of Daily Newspapers and served on the 125th Anniversary Committee of the state press organization.
I always considered him a good friend, Grimes said Monday.
He was definitely a fine man, said Lewis.
Among Summerlins survivors is a son, Anthony, who followed his father into the newspaper business and spent many years on the advertising staff of The Mount Airy News before becoming a publisher himself in Union, S.C.
Funeral services for Summerlin will be held Thursday in Atlantic Beach, but a memorial service is scheduled in Mount Airy on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. at Grace Moravian Church, where he was a member.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.